Writings

It was the best festival we have had

Dear devotees,

Please accept my blessings. All glories to Srila Prabhupada.

I’m sorry to have taken so long to write, but life has been exceptionally busy for me here in South Africa.

I last wrote from Mayapur, immediately after the GBC meetings, about a month ago. From there I went to Singapore for a day on March 8th, where I attended the disappearance day festival of Tamal Krishna Maharaja. There are a number of his more senior disciples there, and I spoke of some of my experiences with Maharaja. He was a soft hearted Vaisnava, but at the same time a strict manager, and I recalled his visit to Bhaktivedanta Manor in 1977, when Srila Prabhupada came for the last time to the West.

Tamal Krishna Maharaja had been in anxiety that the deprogrammers might try to kidnap Srila Prabhupada, and he wanted to make sure that the Manor was as secure as possible. I was the temple commander at the time, so he and I went
on a tour around the building, to see if there were any places people might try to enter secretly.

That evening I did a programme with devotees in a South Indian temple, and then at 2 in the morning I flew to Johannesburg, South Africa.

I did some programmes around Johannesburg for some days and then flew to Durban to prepare for the upcoming Rathayatra festival on the beachfront, which took place from the 21st of March till the 24th.

On Wednesday the 19th one of my disciples, Syamesvari devi dasi, was married to Savyasacin das from Toronto, and as her biological father is not around I was asked to act as her father and escort her into the wedding, and then give her away during the ceremony. It was quite nice, and reminded me that the guru is the spiritual father of the disciple, and that the rasa in the relationship is parental. In Prabhupada Lilamrita there is a passage:

On a morning walk while living at John Lennon’s estate, Srila Prabhupada assured his disciples in a similar way about fatherhood. Vibhavati dasi asked, “What is the meaning of spiritual master?” “Actually, I am not your spiritual master,” Prabhupada replied. “That title is simply a formality. You should think of me as your spiritual father, your eternal father.”

One time a devotee asked Prabhupada if the “rasa” between the disciple and the spiritual master could advance from servant-master, to friend, or to the conjugal rasa? Prabhupada answered that the eternal relationship with the spiritual master is as servant and master or son and spiritual father. He quoted the line from the Vaisnava song praising the spiritual master, “janme janme prabhu sei i he is my lord birth after birth.” On another occasion, Prabhupada quoted that same line, but altered the Sanskrit, janme janme pita sei i “he is my father birth after birth.”

On the Friday the Rathayatra began. It was the best festival we have had, with huge crowds, and amazing things happening, like 3 full sized chariots on the procession.

Unfortunately something happened which spoilt the mood of the festival for those who were aware of it. One of our congregational devotees from Pretoria, Bhaktin Sherita, was murdered on her way to the festival on the Thursday the 20th, and her body was discovered on Saturday night. She was a very sincere soul who was very keen to preach and give Krishna consciousness to others, and we felt her loss very much.

I reflected deeply on her passing for the rest of the festival. She had been a type of aspiring disciple of mine, although she had never actually asked me if she could become one. Still, by her way of dealing with me one could see that she considered herself, at least to some degree, to be in that position. She always chanted her rounds for many years, and was willing to
do any devotional service she was asked to do. She was the type of devotee who would not let circumstances get her down, and even when some of her co-workers threatened to kill her she would just laugh about it and understand that they were just materialists and not take them seriously.

In her last letter to me on March 10th she said: “Tommorrow, my colleague will be charged with misconduct at the Hearing that the Department of Home Affairs will be conducting, for attacking me so severely and I needed the maha to help me through a very tough time .I have lots of pain in my bones, the lower back, my chest and my ribcage. At night while in pain I have only Krishna’s 2metre high picture to absorb my thoughts in before I can fall asleep. My chanting routine broke and I am battling to get back to my normal rounds at the moment. I suffered trauma to the extent that even my chanting
was negatively affected yet my psychologist recommended chanting for trauma to recover speedily from the shock and fear. She is still following me to the ladies and the kitchen, I relive this experience daily.”

So in ways like this she displayed the nature of a devotee and knew the material world was a useless place that we should not become entangled in. However, sometimes in her enthusiasm to preach she would become reckless, and she would go to degraded places to try to do book distribution, which in as dangerous a place as South Africa is a very risky thing to do. On a few occasions I questioned her about how wise it was to go to such places, but she would always laugh it off.

Of course on one hand we should not be afraid of death, as it is inevitable, but at the same time we have to be careful so our devotional service can go on in this lifetime and we can make as much progress as we can. We don’t know in what type of situation we will be born in our next life, if we die in this life without becoming perfect in Krishna consciousness. In the 10th
canto of Srimad Bhagavatam there is a verse and purport which addresses this point:

mrtyur buddhimatapohyo
yavad buddhi-balodayam
yady asau na nivarteta
naparadho ‘sti dehinah

“As long as he has intelligence and bodily strength, an intelligent person must try to avoid death. This is the duty of every embodied person. But if death cannot be avoided in spite of one’s endeavors, a person facing death commits no offense.” (SB 10.1.48)

In his purport Srila Prabhupada says: “It is natural for a person facing untimely death to try his best to save himself. This is one’s duty. Although death is sure, everyone should try to avoid it and not meet death without opposition because every living soul is by nature eternal. Because death is a punishment imposed in the condemned life of material existence, the Vedic culture is based on avoiding death (tyaktva deham punar janma naiti [Bg. 4.9]). Everyone should try to avoid death and rebirth by cultivating spiritual life and should not submit to death without struggling to survive. One who is not trying to stop death is not an intelligent human being. Because Devaki was face to face with imminent death, it was Vasudeva’s duty to save her, as he was trying his best to do. He therefore considered another way to approach Kamsa so that Devaki would be saved.”

But as I said the festival was a great success. One of our South African devotees, a Zulu, took sannyas and became Bhakti Nrsinga Swami Maharaja. We had a nice Anniyor festival during it, in which I told the story of the food offering to Govardhana Hill in elaborate detail.

Following the festival I have been here in Durban and surrounding areas, doing preaching programmes every day. I will write again shortly and update you all further.

Hoping this meets you well.

Your ever well wisher,

Bhakti Caitanya Swami

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